David Cairns, politician, born 7 August 1966; died 9 May 2011
David Cairns, who has died aged 44 from acute pancreatitis, was the Labour MP for Inverclyde.
It was a matter of mutual pride to Cairns and many of his constituents that, when elected in 2001, he became the first Greenock-born MP to represent his home town, the old industrial core of the Inverclyde constituency. From a working-class background, he attended Notre Dame high school in Greenock before training for the Catholic priesthood. His education continued at the Gregorian University in Rome and the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury before Cairns emerged as an ordained priest in 1991. After three years of pastoral work, he became director of the Christian Socialist Movement and also of the federal body representing Labour’s affiliated societies.
As his direction moved towards political activism, Cairns became a parliamentary researcher in 1997 for Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, and also a councillor in the London borough of Merton. His opportunity to enter the Commons arose when the MP for the Greenock constituency, Norman Godman, announced his intention to retire.
Cairns’s local credentials and passionate social commitment carried him through the selection process. However, the fact that he was still an ordained Catholic priest remained an impediment to him taking his seat when elected. McDonagh had already tried unsuccessfully to have the Clerical Disqualification Act of 1801 repealed via a private member’s bill. Cairns’s impending election as an MP added urgency to the need for reform and a repeal act was rushed through in 2001.
After a stint at the Department of Work and Pensions as a parliamentary private secretary, Cairns was appointed in 2005 to the Scotland Office, which had been left with few powers and even less money following the devolution settlement. For a time, he also had responsibilities within the Northern Ireland Office added to his portfolio.
David Cairns lost his ministerial job at the Scotland Office in 2008 after declining to express confidence in Gordon Brown’s leadership. Loss of ministerial office was a sore blow to Cairns, who was widely admired both as an able minister and an articulate advocate of Labour’s cause, particularly in Scotland. But it was a principled decision by a principled politician.
Cairns invoked Richard Tawney, the Fabian economist and reformer, as his political hero, and this informed the causes he embraced. He was a persistent critic of the devolved administration in Edinburgh, whoever was running it, on account of its penchant for universal “free” benefits, whether higher education or prescription charges. As he pointed out, this did nothing for the poor of his constituency, who got these things free anyway, but acted as an expensive subsidy to the voters in Morningside.
Both before he became a minister and subsequently, he was chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. He was also chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and Aids.
Cairns is survived by his partner, Dermot Kehoe, his father, John, and brother, Billy.
“David will be missed beyond measure as a former minister, as an MP, as a friend and a colleague by many people and my heart especially goes out to his partner Dermot and his family in Scotland. David was an immensely talented Member of Parliament who campaigned diligently on behalf of his constituents in Greenockand Inverclyde. A highly effective Minister of State in the Scottish Office, he was Labour through and through and yet was much-respected across the political divide. He was also a man with a wide hinterland. As a former Catholic priest he brought a sensitive understanding of others and a ready wit to politics and he never shied away from saying what he believed to be true. The Labour Party will miss him profoundly. He was a good man.”
“I worked closely with David and the Scotland Office and everyone who knows David will be devastated by this news, and at such a young age. He was a man of enormous dignity, courage and outstanding intellect. His time as a minister was characterised by good humour, good judgement and good character. He had so much more to give his party and his country. He is a huge loss to Scottish and progressive politics. His shrewd political analysis never dulled his quick wit and sense of fun. His true calling in life was always to help others.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Ann McKechin MP:
“He was a dear colleague of exceptional skill, widely recognised in and out of parliament. He was a good friend to us all and we will miss him enormously. Our thoughts are with his family at this most difficult of times.”David Cairns, 1966-2011
Councillor Taylor Situ:
It is with great personal sadness that I have to inform you of the death of our Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Tayo Situ, on Monday, May 9th. Although Tayo had been ill for a number of weeks his passing is a grievous blow to his family, his friends and our borough.
Tayo Situ was a truly gentle man, and fulfilled the role of Mayor of Southwark with real dignity. He was so proud of the opportunity to serve his constituents and our borough as the First Citizen. I know that all of our thoughts and prayers are with Tayo’s family at this time.
A councillor in Peckham since 2002, the Mayor came to the UK from Nigeria in 1985. He studied accountancy at South Bank University and ran his own business. As a Councillor, his priorities were to see more jobs for local people and better services for the young and vulnerable. He lived locally and was a trustee and elder of his church. He was a devoted husband, father to five children and also a grandfather. His wife Mrs Abike Situ is consort and his son Michael is also a councillor.
With my best wishes at this sad time.
Cllr Peter John, Leader of the Council of Southwark